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Bear's Den - So That You Might Hear Me (Album Review)

Thursday, 02 May 2019 Written by Graeme Marsh

First there was acoustic folk. Then things went electronic—a familiar path that Mumford & Sons, Matthew & the Atlas and Ben Howard have all taken in recent years. On album three Bear’s Den refuse to entirely commit to either direction, preferring instead to bask in their ability to switch between the two.

Kevin Jones and Andrew Davie, a two piece since guitarist and banjo player Joey Haynes left in 2016, have long found fertile ground on both sides of the divide, but the cryptic lyrics generally employed by Davie have prevented a certain level of connection and perhaps tempered the band’s appeal. ‘So That You Might Hear Me’, though, finds him trying to be a little clearer at times.

Opener Hiding Bottles is one of the few up tempo moments on the album, and boasts a little electric guitar riff that comes across like a watered down Biffy Clyro. The words continue to baffle—“hiding bottles in the cold blue light”—until we place them in the context of Davie’s mother’s battle with alcoholism.

Another simple yet effective guitar riff pops up on the impressive single Fuel on the Fire, along with the first sign of a recurring theme—submarine sounds that reflect one of the most lonely places to be. Not Every River takes this sense of isolation even further, its instrumental subtlety creating a sparse yet powerful presence.

Despite decent electric flurries, the album’s most memorable moments come with two superb folk-based cuts. The stunning Breaker/Keeper is a beautiful example of finger-picking alongside a descending four-note arpeggio—it’s a spine-tingling delight.

Crow, meanwhile, follows an almost familiar melody as delicate piano and brushes of brass underpin Davie’s attempts to communicate with someone he’s lost, on this occasion his mother’s late boyfriend. The theme follows over into the following song, Conversations With Ghosts.

Another single, Blankets of Sorrow, closes the collection in typically sad fashion. Its lyrics point to the inspiration for the album—Pablo Neruda’s poem So That You Will Hear Me—with a slight twist. Here, another regular thread enjoys its most revealing moment as we’re reminded of that need, a sometimes impossible need, to communicate with people no longer in our lives.

With producer Phil Ek, a former collaborator with Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, on board there’s an audible link to these bands as Bear’s Den continue to grow and flourish. Whether they choose to hang around in a place that allows them to indulge a variety of moods and guises is unlikely, as one or the other will very likely provide too much of a pull. For now, enjoy the best of both worlds.

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